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BOOK REVIEW: NOVEL : Spinnin' a Doggone Interestin' Yarn 'Bout Cowboy Life : HEY, COWBOY, WANNA GET LUCKY? by Baxter Black ; Crown; $21, 223 pages

March 13, 1995|MICHAEL HARRIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What's that, stranger? Deconstruction? Yep, it's true. Some Frenchman who come in here swappin' yarns tried his hand at ridin' one of them mechanical bulls and got that idea. But long before that crazy galoot showed up, I'd already figgered a country-Western bar is a pretty durn good metaphor for the literary life.

It's like this. I'm tryin' to tell my story, right? And at the same time, every dadblamed drunk and con artist and out-and-out liar in the place is tryin' to tell his, at the top of his lungs.

Meanwhile, the band is playin' and folks are flirtin' and fightin' and dancin' and gettin' bucked off them bulls, and sometimes furniture's flyin'--better duck! That was close, stranger--and makin' a hell of a racket.

But you gotta be heard. One way or another. A writer's gotta have guts, just like a rodeo rider--like Cody Wing and his sidekick Lick in Baxter Black's first novel, "Hey, Cowboy, Wanna Get Lucky?" They climb on real broncs and bulls, not these high-falutin' exercise machines.

Anyway, the point is, a writer's gotta tell that story so it'll drown out the music, freeze the fighters in mid-punch, take the lovers' minds off each other, shut up all the competition and make 'em listen to him.

See?

Now, my ol' compadre Baxter--he rode bulls hisself, like he says, "until my brains came in" and he became America's best-sellin' cowboy poet and a humorous commentator on National Public Radio. And odds are, he hung out in a few saloons like this one.

What's that, darlin'? Do I want another? And this gentleman here is buyin'? Why, I don't mind if I do. Thank you kindly, stranger.

Anyway, ol' Baxter knows a few things about storytellin'. One is to keep the underlyin' plot simple. Lick aims to make enough money to qualify for the National Finals in Oklahoma City. Cody falls for a city gal, Lilac, and tries to talk her into marryin' him, movin' to Wyoming and raisin' a passel of kids he'll teach how to "ride colts, track lion, punch cows, rope steers, play guitar and love this wild country."

The next step is to complicate the hell out it. Ol' Baxter strews these two good-hearted boys' paths with more thorns than a thicket of prickly pear. Injuries, brawls, groupies, poker games, highwaywomen, jail, a couple of goons who kidnap Lick so a high-rollin' Texas syndicate can cover its bets--you name it.

Like a chili cook with a heavy hand on the seasonin', he sprinkles in "sex, violence, intrigue and the occasional philosophical observation" on everythin' from the meanin' of slow dancin' to whether a guardian angel can live in a Copenhagen can.

Sometimes ol' Baxter tosses in a poem, or stops the action and talks straight to the reader in his educated voice. "True, the good authors never exercise this cheesy little device," he says, "but they often wish they had."

That's what that Frenchman--he called hisself the Sorbonne Kid--called deconstruction. Remindin' folks that what you're tellin' 'em is just a made-up story, even tellin' 'em how you're makin' it up, and then double-darin' 'em to stop bein' interested in it.

Now, just between you and me, maybe Baxter spent too much time in saloons, literarily speakin'. He shouts so loud every page has got exclamation points! all over it! like this!, and he's spurrin' that prose like he's tryin' for a laugh every dadblamed line, like a stand-up comic.

You'd think the stuff he writes about would be interestin' enough on its own, like in the Finals when Lick has to ride a bull that ain't never been rode. Named Kamikaze.

Not that the bull's got any suicidal tendencies, mind. It's the riders. He's put a passel of 'em in the hospital, and about halfway through the novel he stomps one poor boy dead.

That's deconstruction.

But on second thought--duck again! A little slow that time, stranger. Here, I'll mind your drink till you come to. No point in lettin' the ice melt--like I was sayin', you gotta admit ol' Baxter knows rodeo, and he sure as hell knows his audience.

This audience, anyway.

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